An automaker tries to cover up a bestselling car’s defect in this thriller that combines corporate intrigue and organized crime.
In 2003, a Japanese man named Osamu Tomoda was driving to meet some old college friends in Saitama Prefecture when the wheel of his car seized up, causing a collision. Tragically, the other driver died when his vehicle was consumed by flames, leaving Tomoda crushed with guilt. The police seemed skeptical that the accident was caused by a mechanical failure but couldn’t prove any wrongdoing; later, Tomoda learns that other Eagle SUV drivers experienced similar problems. He posts a note on an online forum, which attracts four other posts from Eagle drivers reporting similar mechanical failures. Meanwhile, top executives working for the carmaker, the Goryo Auto Company, also become aware of the issue but attempt to suppress it for fear of a recall, which would not only be financially costly, but also devastating to the company’s reputation. Also, a top crime boss, Sassa, owns shares in the company and wants to delay a recall so that his investment will continue to appreciate. Caught in the middle of the mess is Shunichi Okada, a managerial chief at Central Fire & Marine, the company that insures Goryo, as well as some Eagle owners claiming engineering dysfunction. Okada uncovers evidence that suggests the Eagle has been plagued with a mechanical glitch—but then his own company tries to bury his findings. Soon, both Tomoda’s and Okada’s careers are threatened, and after a powerful lawyer with strong ties to the criminal underworld gets involved, their lives could be in danger, too.
Shima (Outsider Artist, 2017, etc.) is expertly knowledgeable about the Japanese automobile industry, and he meticulously unravels Goryo’s complex skein of private profiteering and public regulation. He also cleverly juxtaposes the automobile maker, the insurance company, and the cosmos of organized crime, displaying the dark ways in which they share common ground. The threats begin subtly, develop into an ominous cascade of innuendo and implication, and then crescendo when a dog’s severed head shows up at Tomoda’s home. The entire story is written in plain, clear prose, which is helpful given the often complex bureaucratic elements that underpin the drama. However, these elements can still be confounding at times, which may compel readers to move slowly and even take notes. The author explains the legal and economic context with painstaking clarity, but the minutiae still snowball into a minor mountain of detail by the end. Nevertheless, patient readers will be well-rewarded for their troubles, as the book’s chilling amalgam of administrative banality and criminal nihilism is its biggest strength. Okada emerges as the perfect protagonist for this multifaceted tale—a technocrat who’s devoted to both his friend and to the truth, the twin pillars of moral motivation. And Tsukasa Tamai, the lawyer summoned by the crime bosses to make the recall problem vanish, is an intelligently constructed and unsettling combination of professional sophistication and brutality.
An exceedingly thoughtful but often heart-pounding crime story.